Frequently, flyers know Scott Keyes on a first-name basis.
The founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a newsletter that fulfills the very promise of its name, Keyes considers himself a “friend who happens to be a flight expert” to an audience of nearly 2 million, helping users save on international air travel.
But, in the midst of a pandemic that’s essentially halted all overseas flights, Keyes hasn’t yet had to cut his brand’s capacity, and his audience, for the most part, is still there.
“It’s been a challenging time for everybody,” said Keyes, who declined to provide specific figures. “There’s a magnitude less [unsubscribers] than what I would have expected. The bottom never fell out for us.”
The company, which has grown to 36 employees, has avoided layoffs. The newsletter is still sent almost daily—the amount of notifications varies depending on a user’s nearest airport—although the brand has made some pivots during the pandemic.
While last-minute deals were never a priority, Keyes now makes a point of sending deals only for flights that are leaving in three to four months. The only airlines featured are those waiving change fees, a contentious topic early on in the pandemic, now less so, as Delta, United and American have all axed the fee for domestic travel.
The biggest change has seen the newsletter pivot away from long-haul international flights, its exclusive focus before the pandemic, toward domestic travel. Obviously, with Covid-19 restrictions in place, those no longer held much relevance for Keyes’ U.S. audience.
The shift, which was tested in May and launched in July, was something his audience had been asking for for years, to the chagrin of Keyes, who still believes that domestic savings aren’t nearly as exciting as nabbing a $130 flight from New York to Milan, the ticket that inspired his entire business.
“I want every deal we send to be eye-popping,” said Keyes. “[Domestic flights] are relatively inexpensive to begin with; you can’t save that much money.”
Still, the switch was necessary given the current travel realities, and for that, Keyes said he’s “grateful” they made the change.
“For most folks, domestic travel is much more popular and prevalent than international travel,” he said. “I would have felt like we weren’t meeting our members’ expectations or hopes if we were still just sending international flights.”
It’s also added two other newsletters, published weekly, one on navigating the Covid-19 travel ecosystem and the other more lifestyle-focused, recommending destinations like Savannah, Ga. The added inventory has opened up opportunities for sponsorships and additional revenue, which began in June and have included brands like RV Airbnb startup’s RVshare and Outdoorsy.
In terms of pricing, Keyes said that while flights may look cheap, he hasn’t seen anything shocking on the market yet.
“It’s a misconception that flights are cheap because of the pandemic,” he said, pointing out that internationally, flyers have been able to find deals since 2015.
But travelers can expect prices to remain low during the holidays and peak travel season, as travel demand isn’t expected to return anytime soon.
“I think we’ve seen more cheap flights over Christmas in 2020 than we have for the past five years combined,” he said. “I would not expect that to outlive the pandemic.”
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